Gospel Commentary: According to Mark

"The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God …" The opening words of the Gospel of Mark tell us something of the inspired man who wrote his Gospel nearly 20 centuries ago — he likes to get right to the point. Since this Liturgical Year’s readings for Sunday Masses will be taken from "Cycle "B," which focuses on Mark’s Gospel, it is certainly worth our time briefly to consider the both the man who authored the text and his sources. The most ancient and reliable tradition holds that Mark, a disciple and scribe of Peter, wrote down accurately, all that Peter remembered of things done and said by the Lord. It has been called "Peter’s Gospel" by some, and in the simple and rough presentation of the words and deeds of our Lord, one can almost hear the big fisherman spinning his remembrances of Jesus before spellbound audiences from Jerusalem to the capital of the Empire. Mark probably wrote his gospel in Rome, somewhere between 50 and 60 AD, perhaps using the earlier Gospel of Matthew as a reference and guide. His audience was primarily Gentiles who had converted to Christianity, so at times he takes special care to explain Jewish traditions and customs. His gospel is the shortest, his style of presentation brief and blunt [one of the Church Fathers nicknamed him "the Divine Abbreviator"]. His grammar was coarse and unrefined. Mark liked action; his stories are filled with details that the other evangelists tend to omit — for example, he shows a special preference for graphic descriptions of illnesses and demonic possessions. No New Testament author tells us more about the humanity of Jesus than does Mark. He describes an entire spectrum of human emotions: anger [Mk 3:5], frustration [4:40], sadness [14:34], indignation [14:48], irritation [8:12], and many others — far more frequently noting these very human reactions than the other three evangelists. Often his brief and pithy accounts are strung together haphazardly with the words "kai euthos" [the Greek words for "and immediately"] with little thought of providing smooth transitions between his scenes. Mark includes fewer parables than his brother evangelists and tends to avoid relating Christ’s longer sermons. There is no trace of the extended discourses carefully recorded by John, and Mark overlooks almost entirely the material presented by Matthew and Luke that comprises what we remember as the Sermon on the Mount [three full chapters in Matthew’s gospel]. Missing also are the stories of Jesus’s birth related by Matthew and Luke. Mark simply wants to get to the action. Within three verses of his opening, the evangelist traditionally symbolized by a lion is already describing John the Baptist, roaring throughout the Judean countryside, preparing the way for the Messiah. When the Baptist suddenly appeared, the prophetic voice had been stifled for centuries in Palestine. The last prophet before John, [probably Malachi], had thundered his message more than 400 years earlier. John, clad in traditional prophetic garb [camel’s hair cloth and leather belt], understandably caused great excitement and expectation … "Is he Messiah or Precursor?" John the Baptist is still a figure whose message and mission powerfully evoke the proper disposition of the Advent Season — watchful anticipation. As Christmas in the Year of our Lord 1999 approaches, we are called to live in the wake of Jesus Christ’s first advent, and to be heralds of His second coming. Enlightened by the truth of Mark’s Gospel, and strengthened by the sacraments, we repent … we wait … we anticipate. Amen. Fr. Riley is parochial vicar at St. John Parish in Warrenton and professor of Sacred Scripture at Christendom College in Front Royal.

Copyright ?1999 Arlington Catholic Herald, Inc. All rights reserved.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016